Sallying through the Alley with Marsalis

AS PROLIFIC as he is outspoken, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis recently added a two-record set to his burgeoning discography: “Live at Blues Alley,” recorded in December 1986 at the Georgetown club. A swan song of sorts, presumably the last recording by a very promising quartet, the album is nearly as noteworthy for the playing of pianist Marcus Roberts as it is for Marsalis’ turn toward a more earthy and relaxed form of lyricism.

Roberts, who still works alongside Marsalis in the trumpeter’s current quintet (and won the Thelonious Monk piano competition here not long ago), has a ringing percussive sound and a probing sense of harmony that complements — maybe even sparked — Marsalis’ interest in a more casual, colorful stance. To hear them collaborate with drummer Jeff Watts and bassist Robert Hurst III on a tenderly nostalgic version of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” or on the muted “Just Friends,” is to appreciate the empathy they’ve developed over the last few years.

There are, to be sure, performances which emphasize Marsalis’ technical command. The bravura begins with darting bumblebee flights on “Knozz-Moe-King” and extends through “Delfeayo’s Dilemma,” “Chambers of Tain,” and “Skain’s Domain.” Each of these tunes has been recorded by the trumpeter in the past, but Watts’ propulsive attack and unexpected accents give them renewed momentum. The album’s principal drawbacks are the filler tunes (mostly reprises) that flesh out the collection.

WYNTON MARSALIS — “Live at Blues Alley” (Columbia PC2 40675). Appearing with Ellis Marsalis Saturday at Carter Barron Amphitheater.

by Mike Joyce
Source: The Washington Post

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